It tells the story of a young idealistic Tennessee Valley Authority administrator, Chuck Glover (Montgomery Clift) who comes to a small town in Tennessee to enforce the clearing of the land to be flooded by a new dam in the Tennessee river in the early 1930s. An ageing 80-year-old matriarch, Ella Garth (Jo Van Fleet) refuses to sell her land to the federal government and the film anticipates much of the environmental debates concerning the artificial control of rivers.
The federal agent falls in love with the matrarch's granddaughter, Carol Garth Baldwin (Lee Remick), and some scenes between them are remarkable for their erotic tension with no explicitness whatsoever. The film also portrays some of the racial issues in the South after the Great Depression. Filmed in Cinemascope, this work by Elia Kazan shows a deep understanding of the relationship of Nature and the Land with the individual in the United States, reminiscent of artistic and philosophical concerns coming from the 19th century.
Some of the panoramic scenes, with the river meandering by beautiful green hills, but with tree stumps on the foreground, are reminiscent of some landscape painting techniques of the Hudson River School. The acting is riveting -- one of the renowned imprints of Elia Kazan as a movie director.
The movie was adapted by Paul Osborn from two novels -- Borden Deal's Dunbar's Cove and William Bradford Huie's 1942 novel, Mud on the Stars. It was filmed in Charleston, Tennessee near Chattanooga on the Hiwassee and Tennessee Rivers.